THE FLOOD is one of ten stories in L. Malia Nobles’ first book, Women Becoming: A Short Story Collection. Throughout the book, Nobles’ characters explore the range of human emotion via personal metamorphoses. The Flood is published on LOE with permission from the author. Nobles’ book is available for purchase here.
Genevieve is no longer sure where her dreams end and reality begins. Tuesday night, in her dorm room, after Psychology 110, she rests on her messy bed, tugging her skirt down over her dark thighs, thinking. She thinks so much that sometimes, it drives her mad.
In class tonight, Dr. Cerulean talked of therapy students who diagnose themselves with what they’re learning. Genevieve didn’t want to say it, but secretly, she’s only a Psychology major because she might be mad. Not seriously mad, she tells herself, but she’s just curious, that’s all. What if she could pick apart her relationship with her parents, all Freudian like? Is homosexuality nature or nurture? She’s not a lesbian or anything, and she tolerates her parents just fine. She just needs to know. For a friend.
There’s going to be a knock on her door any minute now, as her very good looking classmate, Anabelle from down the hall, is coming for a visit. Genevieve has told herself that nothing’s going to happen, unlike last time, but she’s not sure she’ll be able to contain it if Annabelle, with her lips pierced, comes in wearing black and silk, or those pants that make her legs look carved out of marble.
Genevieve has told herself that she needs to see Bella again. She reaches for her dresser, where cellphone is charging, to send a text, and whilst fumbling for it, she knocks over her open bottle of Evian water. It begins to spill and bubble onto the messy contents of the desk, flooding onto her cellphone and its charger. A few sparks fly.
“Shit.” Genevieve shakes the phone wildly about to dry it off, but the screen is glitching, flashing. She smacks the phone against her hand, forgetful that the Evian is still tipped over.
The phone gives one last flicker of life. Genevieve groans and throws it onto her bed, thinking, stupid thing. What on Earth am I paying all this money for? Never mind that her parents pay for her phone bill. Water is still pouring from the neck of the bottle, onto the floor where she keeps her dirty shoes and trash.
“Shit.” She grabs the bottle, holds it right side up, but it continues, overflowing the neck.
“What on Earth?” The water smacks over the bottle top, splashing her hands and her sweater. She covers it with her hand and squints hard at the plastic column. Water rushes upward from within itself, like there’s a high powered spring at its core, and she can’t see through the opaque bundle of silvery bubbles.
Genevieve holds the bottle out from her as far as possible, then digs around the dresser top for the plastic cap. But after sifting through the piles of rusted razor blades, empty lipsticks, and bloody tissues to no avail, she knows the cap is gone. She turns the bottle upside down, annoyed, and shakes it up and down violently.
“Hurry up, finish up,” she scolds, like the bottle is a small child. She smacks the bottle’s bottom, watching as the water pours out in gushes, cascades. Her carpet becomes more and more wet, her socks more and more trickled on.
“Oh, fuck off.” Genevieve gets up and takes her bath towel down from its hook, on the back of the front door. Navy blue and crusted with blood, it serves as a blockade: she bundles the towel up, nestles the neck deep inside it, and leaves it in a corner of the room, to pour to its heart’s content.
Sighing, she walks, soggy-footed, back to the bed. Takes one last look at her cellphone, pressing buttons that prove it useless and water-logged. She can see her swollen, darkened face in the black, mirror-like screen.
Genevieve climbs back into bed, closes her eyes, and focuses on the pulse of her heartbeat. She takes a deep breath, slow inhale, audible exhale. This was the way she’d learned in yoga class the other night, with Anabelle. Held in the back of the gym’s old dance room, the class was a sultry sort of relaxation; dim lights, Anabelle stretched, black pants, white sports bra. It almost cured her, she thought, but there was that damn, leaky pipe in the corner of the room, and how was she supposed to focus on shavasana, deep breathing, with that agonizing drip, drop, drip, drop? It was always the little things that got to her most.
In the present, Genevieve breathes herself into a paralysis of sleep, in which she has bursts of sleep paralysis: dreams wherein she’s stuck in the bed, trying to raise her head, arms, and legs, but some heavy force is pinning her.
She wakes in an hour, suddenly, up to the feeling cold water soaking into her jeans.
When she opens her eyes, she finds that there is a flash flood in the dorm room: dark, ocean-like water is swishing and crashing, rising like a tide, her shoes, clothes, and trash all rocking in time.
“What the hell?”
Genevieve stands up, the water galloping her feet and shins. Water beats in waves through the cracked, open window, and the Evian bottle, still pouring out, is bouncing along the surface, the towel floating beside it resembling a seaweed creature. She has to get out, out of this room and maybe her life, so she swims through her belongings and wilted garbage, her metal rainboots, her desk chair and ruined computer bits, swallowing water, inching towards the door. By the time she’s reached it, the water has risen so that she can’t reach the handle unless she goes under. Her feet no longer touch the floor.
She hears someone knocking, rapturous, on the door, outside.
“Genevieve?” Anabelle’s muffled voice can be heard over the sound of the waves.
“It’s me, open up!”
Genevieve finally gets a hold of the handle, but when she opens it, a violent burst of
water sprays her back, tossing her and sending her rolling beneath the surface.
When she comes up again, the water is so high that she’s inches from the ceiling. She
holds her breath and goes under once more, trying to swim against the current, but the pressure
is heavy, the trash swirling about her in a haze, the wooden chair legs and razor blades nicking her limbs. She can’t see the doorway, or make any headway, so she bursts above the surface, gurgling and panting, her heartbeat throbbing as the last bit of air goes.
She tries to scream, which instantly clogs her throat. Soon, the pain becomes unbearable, and she suffocates, blacks out.
But Genevieve awakes with a start the next morning. Everything around her is dry, as it were, and the daylight is bright. Only her body is soaking wet.
Genevieve sits up, heartbeat still throbbing in her chest. Her clothes are drenched and heavy, sticking to her skin, and she smells salty and of seaweed. On the dresser sits the Evian bottle, still and inanimate among the razor blades and mess.
Her phone sits on the charger, fully functional at 100%.
She looks out the glass windows, sees the sun peeking through a few clouds. It could’ve rained last night, but it’s not likely. The ground outside shows no signs of this.
“Good morning, Genevieve.”
Genevieve squeaks. Anabelle is standing in the open doorway, unannounced.
“Relax, it’s just me,” the older girl laughs.
“Oh, God.” Genevieve wipes her wet forehead, picks up her phone, looks at the time.
She has class in forty five minutes, and two missed calls from last night, from Annabelle.
“What are you doing here?” Genevieve says. “You scared me.”
“You left the door unlocked,” Anabelle says. “Damn, you really sweat it out last night. You didn’t have some other girl in here, did you?”
Genevieve rolls her eyes, ringing out her sleeves. “I was just having a bad dream.”
She takes a deep breath, finding that her chest is sore. She remembers the way that
the drowning had felt, the way it’d seemed like she was going to explode.
“You mean a wet dream?” Anabelle says. “I mean, I know you’re a squirter, but…”
“The fact that I did that, once, on accident, is not funny!”
“It really is, though. You should’ve seen your face when I…”
Genevieve sticks her fingers in her ears, to block out the details. She decides she has no time to be harassed by her sort-of-only-friend-with-benefits. She has things to do, places to be, or not, no time for lingering on awfully real dreams.
Genevieve forgets about the flood, if only for a while. That night finds her doing Psych homework in bed, alone, when suddenly she hears it again, coming from the corner.
Drip… drop… drip… drop…
She looks up at her ceiling to find a small hole above the closet. Rainwater is pooling into a puddle on the carpet, and really? she thinks. What on earth is she paying this tuition for? Never mind that her homophobic parents are paying her tuition.
She reaches for the dresser to get her phone off of the charger, but then stops short.
This is exactly the way it started last time.
“Come off it, don’t be crazy,” she tells herself, then dials her resident director’s phone number, to lodge a complaint.
Before the call can connect, Genevieve hears knocking on the door. She hangs up and opens the door to two scruffy men wearing neon vests and white hard hats.
“We just wanted to apologize about the leak,” the man says. “We’re fixing the broken pipe now.” Another man, dressed exactly the same, comes into Genevieve’s room and places a metal bucket underneath the spillage in the corner.
“Thanks,” Genevieve says, completely ungrateful. When she shuts the door behind them, the dripping sound is only louder, falling heavy and hard into the metal.
Drip… drop… drip… drop… She tries to focus on her homework, but she can’t take that sound. She can’t stop thinking about the way the flood had started without her knowledge, without her having time to prepare.
Drip… drop… drip… She’s going to murder someone. She decides to get out of bed to find the workers once more, but just as her feet touch the floor, a piece of wet ceiling crumbles and clanks against the bucket, making the hole bigger, causing water to flown out in a steady, heavy column.
Genevieve runs towards the unlocked door, but when she opens it, the flood truly begins: rushing water charges at her in a terrifying storm, knocking her onto her back and sending her tumbling through bubbles into the corner.
The glass windows shatter and the flood rushes in, the hole in the ceiling growing larger and larger. The currents are so strong that Genevieve can’t swim, and no one can hear her as she yells for help. She struggles so hard towards the door that her body eventually goes limp. It’s all she can do but choke on the water, as her body reaches the ceiling and she goes under. Once more, she feels that pressure in her chest, the remnants of an explosion, and then she goes dark.
“Bella, listen to me,” she’s saying, next morning. “Something really strange has been
happening to me at night.”
The two of them are standing in line at the dining hall for breakfast, and Genevieve is
clutching the other girl’s arm, speaking low and shaken.
“Didn’t I tell you what those were called?” Anabelle smirks. “Wet dreams are perfectly natural for a growing girl your age.”
Genevieve pinches her. “Could you stop being a douche-y pervert for more than a minute?” When Anabelle concedes, she recomposes herself, begins again.
“Every night, I dream that I’m drowning in a flood, in my room. I know it’s a dream, I know that, because when I wake up, everything’s dry, and nobody else is talking about rain or floods or anything. But I can feel it, feel it like it’s real. And when I wake up, my clothes are soaked, even if nothing else is.”
Anabelle’s smile is fading.
“And I don’t mean damp, I’m drenched. My hair is dripping, I’m prune-y, like I’ve just been held down in a swimming pool for hours. And I feel like I can’t breathe, like something or someone is choking me right before I wake.”
“Okay,” Anabelle says. “That sounds kinda crazy.”
“I’m not crazy.”
“Exactly why I said ‘that,’ and not ‘you.’” Anabelle sighs, moving Genevieve along in the buffet line, lowering her voice, too.
“Have you seen a therapist?” she says. “Aren’t you a Psych major? You people love therapists. Couldn’t you technically be your own therapist?”
“I don’t need therapy,” Genevieve insists. “I just need to make the dreams stop somehow.”
“Right.” Anabelle looks thoughtful. “Well, how are we going to do that?”
Genevieve holds Anabelle’s hand especially tight.
“Can you sleep over tonight?”
“You know, if you want me to keep you up all night with ravenous love making,” Anabelle says, as her grin returns, “all you had to do was ask.”
Around midnight, with no rain in the skies, Anabelle and Genevieve go to the local drug store to get some sodas. By one, they’re in bed with each other, the cups discarded on the dresser, and Anabelle is yawning and stretching.
“I’m convinced that what I need to do is not go to sleep,” Genevieve is saying.
“Because of the flood. If I don’t sleep, it can’t sneak up on me again.”
“And how long would you have to keep that up?”
“As long as humanly possible. What’s that, two weeks? Maybe three?”
Genevieve is restless, unable to keep herself from talking about it. Over Anabelle shoulders, she’s staring at the two large soda cups, one half-empty and both barely upright in the midst of the bloody napkins.
“Can you?” Genevieve nudges Anabelle’s side. “Can you finish your drink?”
“The soda. One time, it started when a bottle tipped over off of the dresser.”
“Is it gonna happen when I flush the toilet down the hall, too?” Anabelle laughs.
“After all the pissing I’m gonna have to do to finish that drink now.”
“It could happen that way, too. The resident director said the sewage pipes in the
building have been getting clogged lately.”
Genevieve suddenly climbs over Anabelle to get to the floor, where she’s free to let her energy go by pacing.
“I should board up the windows, it always comes in through the windows. Is it supposed to rain tonight? How is there always an ocean coming in from outside? We live in the middle of Indiana, for God’s sake!”
Anabelle laughs at her one last time.
“Look, if anything does happen, I’ll be right here,” she says, half-assed. “I’ll be your alibi, we can sink or swim together.”
Genevieve stops pacing, watching as Anabelle turns her back on her and promptly falls asleep. She then gets the desk chair, pulls it towards the closet, and examines the corner in the ceiling where the rain had leaked before. Next, she stares intently at the sealing on the window sill. Opens the door to the room periodically, winces when there’s nothing but the hallway awaiting outside. Her stomach turns every time she hears someone use the showers.
She stays awake instead of letting it go to rest, obsessed, the dream world and the real world one and the same. Two nights ago, she’d blinked and all of a sudden streams were trickling out of the air conditioning vent. The night before, the trigger was her breaking her toenail on the edge of the desk. One minute she was clogging the blood with a paper towel, the next she was being drenched from up above by a leak in the fire sprinkler.
At four AM, Genevieve hears the shower start again, and decides that she can’t take any chances. Stumbling over Anabelle’s body, she leaves the dorm room and marches into the hallway. Far too freaked by the ominous showers, she goes back to the room again, decides to create a makeshift “DO NOT OPEN…PLUMBING BROKEN” sign with notebook paper and marker, and returns to the hallway, sticking it to the door of the communal bathroom.
But out in the hallway, she realizes that she just made a grave mistake. Turning her back on her bedroom, letting it leave her sight for even just a moment, was probably a dangerous enough offense to start the flood.
“Oh, God, Bella!”
What was she thinking, bringing her into this? Genevieve runs back to her room, hoping she can stop what she fears, but behind the closed door, she can already hear the water rushing.
She swings the door open and the flood bursts through, knocking her off her feet. She struggles against the current and inside the room to find Anabelle’s body, face down and lifeless on the surface of the water.
“I’m so sorry!”
The windows shatter, the ocean blasts in, and this time, the burst is so strong that it slams Genevieve back into one of the walls. She hits her head so hard that she can’t move, doesn’t bother to struggle at this point. All of it – Anabelle’s body, the dresser, the bed – all of it rises to the ceiling along with her. In her last moments down under, she tries to reach for Anabelle.
And wakes up with an explode of an exhale. She’s once again soaked, the soda cups from last night still on the dresser, the glass of the windows still solid and intact.
Anabelle is gone. Genevieve knows she didn’t drown, thinks she didn’t drown, but still, she needs to look for her immediately. She has to know if she saw anything.
Later, Genevieve finally finds her Anabelle, waiting in line for breakfast without her.
Genevieve calls after her, but Anabelle takes one look at her and ducks her head. Strange. Genevieve weaves in and out of the line so that she’s standing right behind her “girlfriend,” but Anabelle is turning away, running a hand across the back of her neck.
“Did you leave last night?” Genevieve’s heartbeat is racing.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Anabelle still won’t look at her.
“Because when I came back, the flood had already happened, you were dead, and I know that you aren’t dead now, and I’m glad you’re alright, but it seemed so real, felt so real.”
Anabelle finally looks at her, as if she’s a stranger she’s never met.
“You’ve got issues, girl,” she says, walking away. “Don’t talk to me.”
“Wait! Did I do something to you in my sleep?”
Now alone, Genevieve tries to stomach breakfast, sitting at a table with a few people she recognizes from one of her classes. But she feels compelled to ask them if they know anything about the flood.
“Did you hear the rain last night?” she asks the guy sitting next to her.
“I don’t think it’s rained in a couple of weeks.”
“Is it going to rain soon, you think? Any hurricanes coming?”
“I don’t know, ask Google. We don’t get hurricanes in Indiana, anyway.”
Genevieve can’t finish eating. She decides that she can’t go back to her dorm, no matter what, that she’s going to try to sleep overnight in the library.
But alas, an hour past closing time at midnight, one of the librarians finds the spot on the third floor where she’d been planning to hole up.
“Miss, I’m sorry, but you need to go back to your dorm.”
When she refuses, Genevieve is escorted out by one of the teenaged Rent-A-Cops. He waits for her in front of her building as she fumbles with her keys, stalling.
“I have nightmares in here,” she tries to explain. “Horrible nightmares that feel real.”
“Have you tried sleeping pills? Xanax’ll do the trick. I know a guy.”
When she opens the door, she finds her resident director standing beside the two men in the construction vests from the other night. In her hands, the director holds a piece of notebook paper that says, “DO NOT OPEN…PLUMBING BROKEN.”
They fall silent when Genevieve as she walks down the hall.
“Genevieve,” the director says eventually, once Genevieve’s back is turned. “Is everything alright? I got a call about you sleeping in the library.”
But Genevieve ignores her. She walks, like a girl sending herself to the gallows, back into her bedroom, leaving the door unlocked.
But this time, when the flood happens, Genevieve doesn’t fight it. She embraces her gallows, lets herself drown, one last time, for good measure.
L. Malia is a twenty nine year old fiction writer in California. Her works have been featured in Legendary Women Inc., The Prism Review #16, The Write Place at the Write Time, and 101words.org. Find her book “Women Becoming” on lmalianobles.com